Indians, Rays lead arbitration storylines

While the Hot Stove season is largely dominated by free agency and trade talks, an overlooked aspect of every MLB offseason is the arbitration process. If a player is eligible, the team and the player submit figures for the upcoming season’s salary. If the two sides cannot agree on a compromise, they advance to a process that is resolved by an arbiter, who picks one of the two figures submitted.

The 2011-12 arbitration season has brought with it two statistical and historical storylines - the potential end of the Cleveland Indians’ streak of avoiding arbitration and the unbeaten run of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Indians & Arbitration: Like Oil & Water

While it looked like it might be snapped any number of times, the Indians have not gone to arbitration with a player since 1991. Thanks to Maury Brown's Business of Baseball website, we can tell you that is the longest such streak in the Major Leagues. The last time the Indians went to arbitration was 1991, when the team did so with Greg Swindell and Jerry Browne.

Most Consecutive Seasons
Without Going to Arbitration

Why is this relevant? The Indians currently have one arbitration-eligible player unsigned – SS Asdrubal Cabrera. The Indians and Cabrera are continuing discussions on a long-term contract, but without a resolution on that front, the team and player will likely head to arbitration. Cabrera's camp has requested a 2012 salary of $5.2 million, while the Indians have countered with an offer of $3.75 million.

For additional context, the landscape of Major League Baseball was noticeably different in 1991 than it is in 2012. The Indians played their home games in Cleveland Stadium and resided in the AL East. The team's Opening Day payroll was $18,270,000, roughly one-third of what it projects to be in 2012.

The last time the Indians went to arbitration, the highest Opening Day payroll in baseball was held by the Oakland Athletics - $33,632,500. The Athletics have a projected Opening Day payroll for 2012 of $38,765,500.

The last time the Indians went to arbitration, the Opening Day payroll of the New York Yankees was $27,815,835. That represents just 13.7 percent of the $202,689,028 payroll the team had for 2011.

Best Win Percentage in Arbitration

Rays: Great on the Field, Better off it

While the Rays track record on the field has been impressive enough under the Andrew Friedman regime, no team can match the success of Friedman and the rest of the front office at the arbitration table.

The team’s arbitration win over starting pitcher Jeff Niemann earlier this week improved the Rays franchise to 6-0 all-time in arbitration, the best win percentage in MLB.

The Rays have as many arbitration wins in six all-time cases (6) as the Detroit Tigers have in 20 all-time cases (6-14). In all, the Rays have defeated Niemann (2012), B.J. Upton (2010), Dioner Navarro (2009), Josh Paul (2006, 2007) and Esteban Yan (2002).